The Stars are Fire … and More

To not forget some of the books I read last month, I’m listing them with short reminders.  What have you been reading?  Send me your comments.

9780385350907_p0_v2_s192x300   The Stars Are Fire by Anita Shreve

I eagerly anticipate each new Anita Shreve novel and The Stars Are Fire did not disappoint.  Although the fire in Maine begins the story with horror, Shreve wisely introduces two romantic leads to replace the uptight authoritarian husband who conveniently disappears fighting the fire.  The relief brings romance and a career to the heroine, but her reprieve is not longlasting.  The husband returns, scarred and needy, and more demanding – dangerously vindictive.  Her solution requires courage to save herself  – perhaps the small children motivate her to act.  Happily, all ends well, incluidng the opportune reappearance of a lover, but I’m not sure many women would take the path she did in the nineteen forties.  I cheered her on, thinking how lucky she was to have the haven of a good friend.

9780143130628_p0_v3_s118x184  The Horse Dancer by Jojo Moyes

Horses and girls – always a good formula..  News of the Kentucky Derby and a documentary on the  Maryland Hunt Cup with Senior Senator, the winning horse given a second chance, inspired me to read The Horse Dancer. (The horse named Boo in the book reminded me of Senior Senator. )

Like all Moyes’ stories, this one has problems and romance, connecting unlikely lives for a happy ending.  When Sarah’s grandfather, a master horseman, has a stroke, the teenager tries to continue caring for herself and her horse Boo, but she is caught one night stealing fishsticks for her dinner.  Natasha, a lawyer recently separated from Mac, a photographer, saves her from jail and eventually offers her the safety of her house.  Although the story has a slow start, when the main characters finally  intersect, the drama improves.  Thrown back together by their mutual concern for Sarah, Natasha and Mac work through a series of obscure and unlikely issues but after a dramatic chase across the English Channel to a French riding school, all ends well, with everyone living happily ever after – even the horse.

Always by Sarah Jio

A quirky romance with a shaky love triangle –  I admit I did skip through and bypass most of the hand wringing episodes. But Jio’s love story kept me reading to find out who the heroine would pick – her first love who reappears as a homeless man twenty years after abandoning a successful career or the old monied handsome swain with a penchant for real estate.  Although most of the incidents seemed unrealistic, Always was a nice distraction.

Follow Your Heart by Susanna Tamaro

Olga is a dying Italian grandmother’s giving advice to her granddaughter through twelve letters, talking about her childhood, her marriage, her secrets, her lovers, her mistakes.  As she relives her experiences, Olga makes peace with herself and leaves her granddaughter with a story explaining who she is and why she acted as she did.  You need to be in the frame of mind for philosophy and a little angst, but this short epistolary gave me some interesting quotes.  Here is one from the last page:

Every time you feel lost, confused, think about trees, remember how they grow.  Remember that a tree with lots of branches and few roots will get toppled  by the first strong wind, while the sap hardy moves in a tree with many roots and few branches.  Roots and branches must grow in equal measure, you have to stand both inside of things and above them, because only then will you be able to offer shade and shelter, only then will you be able to cover yourself with leaves and fruit at the proper season.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Her by Harriet Lane

9780316369879_p0_v1_s260x420Harriet Lane’s suspenseful thriller – Her – uses an unlikable revengeful protagonist to methodically stalk her unknowing prey.  The book is a page-turner: you will know early in the story who the victim, Emma, is and her past relationship to the sly Nina – but you will wonder exactly how far Nina will go to exact her revenge.  The ending will have you holding your breath.

As in her first book – Alys, Always – Lane focuses on the characters, slowly revealing the unlikely villain, until you are caught in the story and wanting to alert the poor target of the venom.  In Her, Nina recognizes an old foe and carefully calculates how to exact revenge for something that happened so long ago that Emma doesn’t even remember it.  Nina remains incognito as she slyly insinuates herself into Emma’s life – stealing her wallet and then pretending to have found it, luring her toddler into the woods and then alerting the police to his rescue.  The chapters alternate between Emma and Nina, each relating the same incident, but from a different perspective –  Nina, the stalker; Emma, the vulnerable target.

A great read – not only for the comparison of the lives of two forty-year olds – one who wears Prada, the other stumbling through parenting a toddler and a newborn – but also for the intense psychological thrills as the story quickly progresses to a climax.  Harriet Lane has mastered the art of the dangerous female protagonist; I can’t wait for her next one.

Related ReviewAlys, Always

 

Alys, Always

A good deed changes Frances Thorpe’s life in Harriet Lane’s Alys, Always.

When Frances Thorpe stops to help a woman whose car has overturned in a ditch, she never expects that the final moments of Alice (Alys), trapped inside the car, will give Frances an opportunity to improve her life.  At first, reluctant to meet the family of the dead woman, she changes her mind when she discovers that the widower is a famous British writer.  Frances’s motivation for adding  five words to Alys Kyte’s dying statement might have been to console the family, at first, but the small lie is the beginning of a series of ambitious actions that lead to her insinuating herself into the family.

The story moves slowly as Lane carefully compares the privileged life of the Kytes – Lawrence, handsome and famous writer; Polly, spoiled rich daughter; Teddy, the perceptive son – to that of Frances, a working girl, a copy  editor in the book section of a newspaper.  The suspense builds slowly as Frances emerges from her average middle-class life into someone who has connections.  As she morphs from the obscure heroine into a convenient foil, Frances becomes confidante to Polly and a frequent visitor to the Kyte’s country estate. Lane’s slow reveal of her characters keeps you wondering if the manipulation is intended or a by-product of their emerging relationships.

In this slow-moving thoughtful introspective of intentions, small deceits, and yearning for what others have, Lane offers a look into the lives of two British classes.  Not the upstairs/downstairs of Downton Abby, but the new modern rich (in this case, a successful author) and the working class aspirant who dreams of being Cinderella, jumping into the world of wealth and privilege.  The story’s outcome was always in limbo, and not until the very end does Lane reveal Frances’s fate – at once, surprising but expected; you may have to recalculate your assessment of Frances.

Like other short but powerful British novels, this one will stay with you, and leaves so much to discuss.